By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian court is to deliver a verdict in a case against 12 Christians who stood trial on Easter Sunday for charges that included “crimes against the order” an official assisting them said.
Jason DeMars, director of the Present Truth Ministries advocacy group, told BosNewsLife Monday, April 9, that the believers faced the court the northeastern city of Rasht without a lawyer. “Fog prevented their attorney from flying up from Tehran for the trial, but it went on without him,” he added.
Besides “crimes against the order” the court reportedly also mentioned possible prosecution for the more serious charge of “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, which potentially carries the death penalty in the strict Islamic nation. However DeMars said “that they were not being charged with that” yet. “They want to keep that over their heads for the future,: he explained.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who had to celebrate Easter in a prison near the court, already faces a death sentence on apostasy charges, according to court documents.
Those facing the court Sunday, April 8, were identified as Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and his wife Anahita Khadeimi, Mahmoud Khosh-Hal and his wife Hava Saadetmend, Amir Goldoust, Mina Goldoust, Zhaina Bahremand, Fatemah Modir-Nouri, Mehrdad Habibzade, Milad Radef, Behzad Taalipasand and Amin Pishkar. Rights activists have linked the trial to their Christian activities at a time when Iranian authorities are cracking down on house churches which are reportedly attended by many former Muslims.
“Their defense was that they were performing religious rituals that were protected by law,” explained DeMars about the Christians standing trial.
It was not immediately clear Monday when the court would deliver its verdict. “By law the verdict is to be delivered within two weeks, but as we have witnessed in the case of Youcef Nadarkhani we cannot know exactly when,” De Mars said.
However, he added, that “God helped them and they were given the opportunity to speak in court.” He said he had urged his supporters to, “Pray for them as they wait for the verdict.”
Iranian authorities have consistently denied wrongdoing but have acknowledged they are concerned about the spread of Christianity, with church groups claiming at least 100,000 devoted believers in the country. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year especially condemned the growing house churches.
“Islam approves Christianity in general, but with regard to the religious teachings of Christianity, unfortunately we witness the spread of Christianity among our youth,” added Ayatollah Hadi Jahangosha, an influential Islamic scholar close to the government in 2011.